PG for kids in danger. I mean, there's also a song about pooping in the ground. One of the characters begins hallucinating from touching a mushroom and runs off into the forest naked. I suppose there's actually quite a bit to object to, besides the sense of otherness that indigenous cultures are repeatedly subjected to. But I'm also in the camp that a Dora the Explorer movie shouldn't be beyond PG. I suppose I can stand by this rating, mainly because the jokes are aimed at kids. PG.
DIRECTOR: James Bobin
Let's see what's on the docket for today. Nothing says, be ready to write like seeing that the next movie is the Dora the Explorer movie. If you haven't guessed, we're still doing family movie nights every so often. And since I sound like I'm already too good for the Dora the Explorer movie, I'm going to establish that I didn't oppose watching this. Heck, I even quietly rooted for this movie to be picked because the trailer made me giggle. And while I had a decent time watching this movie that was clearly aimed at children, a week out it seems like I should have fought for other movies.
We're in that great age of the ironic send-up. These are movies that hate their source material. At least, I hope that is the truth. But ever since The Lego Movie showed us that you can have an absurd corporate premise and present something of substance, other movies have tried tackling every franchise with a sense of attempting to do the same thing. Sure, no film has really nailed the sense of irony that The Lego Movie did, but Dora and the Lost City of Gold doesn't absolutely fail at doing the same thing. I hate to ever say this, but maybe my wife was right. Maybe some things shouldn't ever be adapted. Because for all of the joy that Dora and the Lost City of Gold really brings, is any of it really Dora the Explorer?
22 Jump Street made a famously great Dora the Explorer joke in the beginning of the movie. But as great as that joke was, I never confused 22 Jump Street for a Dora movie. While Dora and the Lost City of Gold keeps winking at the camera and parodying elements of the television program, there's really nothing there to make this feel like it is a continuation of a franchise. When my wife argued that some things shouldn't be adapted, Dora kind of fits that bill because the television show was remarkably anti-mythology and anti-narrative. Instead, the show used a loosey-goosey plot per episode to help kids learn skills to help them with kindergarten and taught them rudimentary Spanish. That's it. The movie doesn't really have the same goal. While the film acknowledges that the show was primarily educational, with jokes of Dora speaking to the camera and integrating Spanish from time-to-time, Dora's search for history's lost cities was never part of the plot. The world of Dora the Explorer was free from evil. The antagonist of the show was Swiper, a mostly harmless character that reminded kids to keep their hands to themselves. While it may be cute and funny to laugh at Dora going after armed mercenaries, that's the the stuff Saturday Night Live skits as opposed to actual content that one can seek their teeth into.
But other children's franchises have successfully spun-off into cinema. But those are the movies that are aimed for the kids exclusively, as opposed to building an all-ages audience. I'm thinking of examples like Follow That Bird!, spinning off from Sesame Street. Follow That Bird, as with most Jim Henson productions of the time, held no sense of shame for the property being expanded. Kids loved Big Bird, so telling a story about Big Bird was a point of success for Sesame Street. But for Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Dora had been off the air for a while at this point. I was way too old for Dora myself and my kids were too young. She was off the map. I think the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kind of deal with this issue from generation to generation as it constantly reboots itself. So what happens is that a movie like Dora and the Lost City of Gold comes out and there seems to be a lack of depth. Considering that I've seen a handful of Dora episodes, I got the jokes pretty easily. But is this a love letter to a franchise? Probably not. If anything, it feels a little bit like bullying and embarrassment. The most crafted moments are the ones that stray as far away from the source material as possible.
When I deal with the problems of adaptations, I tend to have to shift away from the primary problem with the film. I now have to look at Dora and the Lost City of Gold as a story divorced from its source material. If we didn't consider the TV show to be the motivation behind this movie, what we get is a movie about an absurd copy of Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. If anything, Dora and the Lost City of Gold probably does a more capable job of sending up those movies while staying aimed at a pre-teen audience. Because the story, what little there is, tends to reflect a complete lack of imagination. The movie really relies on tropes and universal themes to talk to the audience. It is no surprise that Dora, as an outsider to civilization, has a hard time adapting to high school. The thinly veiled biome of high school is the same premise we saw in Mean Girls. The survivalist in the big city is just Crocodile Dundee. And the side characters simply act as archetypes needed to tell a thinly constructed theme of acceptance of difference. If anything, the protagonist is actually too perfect because she's never even tempted by human motivations. She is the Dora of cartoon fame, who has no idea how to get really angry and frustrated. I don't see her singing a poo song, but it does make for good comedy.
So why did I even enjoy it while watching it? From what I've written, I'm pretty down on the movie as a whole. There's a lot of talent behind this movie. While I don't love the eye-rolling attitude the creators of this movie went into it with, the movie is exactly what it aimed to be. It makes fun of the concept of Dora the Explorer, for better or worse. It tells a simple narrative that is laden with jokes both about the show and about the quest trope throughout. Considering that Dora and the Lost City of Gold is meant to be a comedy first and an action movie second, a lot of the jokes land, especially those that tie into the original program.
As a kids' movie, it does a lot of what popular cinema does. We rarely get the educational elements of the original show. Even with Follow That Bird, which I consider the pinnacle of film adaptations for children, there isn't a ton of academic moments in the story. So instead, it makes kids giggle. Sure, I probably ended up enjoying it more than my kids did. They're hard sells and even their limited Dora exposure weren't long enough to considered glory days. But the jokes kind of work. It's a silly movie that's mostly appropriate enough for kids. It's just something that is remarkably forgettable.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.